Portland

Marjorie Moore

Portland Art Museum

Marjorie Moore investigates the duality of innocence and corruption in a series of canvases and works on paper that anthropomorphize real and fantasy animals. Along with 13 paintings and mixed-media assemblages, Moore presented a two-monitor, two-channel video installation, made in collaboration with videomaker Huey Coleman, dancer Nancy Salmon, and singer Miriam Barndt-Webb. Entitled Canis-Canis, 1987, the work juxtaposed images of a caged coyote and shots of the artist parading about, smothering herself in fur pelts. Two separate monitors were set on wooden dressers with drawers bursting open to reveal actual animal pelts. Enclosed in a cagelike wire-mesh fence, the bureaus alluded to the overall theme of entrapment.

With just the right mix of humor, sincerity, and cynicism, Moore appropriates kitsch images and texts about animals from children’s books, both popular and obscure, to comment on human behavior. Bambi, the Three Little Pigs, and Dumbo the Elephant are transformed into the subject of expressionist canvases that both provoke and delight.

The strongest pieces in the show function as allegories. A series of three works entitled Every Girl’s Dream, 1989, not only reflects Moore’s own childhood desire to own a horse but, more poignantly, reveals her romantic dreams of family life. In three separate diptychs made with oil sticks and monoprints of hand-drawn text, Moore retells the story of Rex, a famous Hollywood stallion from the ’30s. In Every Girl’s Dream #1, Rex is shown as a rearing stallion ridden by a cowboy waving his hat. A knotty pine decorative background refers to the great American West. The text, hand-printed on a red plaid grid reminiscent of the flannel lining in a little girl’s dungarees, reads “Rex was once King of the Horses.” In Every Girl’s Dream #2, Rex is now domesticated and joined by his wife, Lady, and daughter, Rexella. Every Girl’s Dream #4 shows Rex with the same cowboy, posing for a Hollywood film, paired with a hand-drawn text describing the horse as a star.

This recurrent theme of the loss of freedom for celebrity or domestication reappears in the brilliantly executed series of three mixed-media images of Strongheart the Wonder Dog. Drawn from a book describing this “movie star” from the ’20s and ’30s, three diptychs tell the tale that reflects the absurd manipulation of beasts by man. In a diptych entitled Strongheart, Wonder Dog #2, 1989, the right hand panel contains a collaged postcard-sized image of a wolflike German shepherd beneath a delicately lettered text, stating that “Strongheart Hears the Call of his Master / Strongheart thinks he has heard the call of his master and waits, tense and eager. You can see the expectant poised look. He is ready.” Moore surrounds the storybook image with a loosely painted yellow frame and places the portrait of Strongheart within a patterned grid of yellow dappled with blue polka dots. The painted panel on the left presents blue and yellow renderings of wolves in a muscular, Abstract-Expressionist style reminiscent of Willem De Kooning. In a second diptych, dogs are portrayed around a table in a parody of an elegant society dinner, and in a third, Strongheart appears domesticated and harnessed. These contrasting situations underscore the silliness of attributing human qualities and feelings to a dog. Moore has appropriated the following text to accompany poor Strongheart: “A wonderful picture of Strongheart. Gone for the time is the wild lure of the North. His brother, the Wolf calls no more. In place of it all is the even smooth tenor of civilization, of life among men. Sometimes, I think, there comes a strange loneliness and desire for that life of the Far North.”

By translating found images of children’s literature into art, Moore examines the subtle and often unconscious relationships between animals and men.

Francine A. Koslow